Title: The Forgotten Letters of Esther Durrant
Author: Kayte Nunn
Published: May 28th 2019
Publisher: Hachette Australia
Genres: Fiction, Contemporary/Historical
Rating: 5 stars
A cache of unsent love letters from the 1950s is found in a suitcase on a remote island in this mysterious love story by top ten bestselling author, Kayte Nunn
1951. Esther Durrant, a young mother, is committed to an isolated mental asylum by her husband. Run by a pioneering psychiatrist, the hospital is at first Esther’s prison but soon becomes her refuge.
2018. Free-spirited marine scientist Rachel Parker embarks on a research posting in the Isles of Scilly, off the Cornish coast. When a violent storm forces her to take shelter on a far-flung island, she discovers a collection of hidden love letters. Captivated by their passion and tenderness, Rachel determines to track down the intended recipient.
Meanwhile, in London, Eve is helping her grandmother, a renowned mountaineer, write her memoirs. When she is contacted by Rachel, it sets in motion a chain of events that threatens to reveal secrets kept buried for more than sixty years.
Every once in a while a very special book comes into your hands at EXACTLY the right time. The Forgotten Letters by Esther Durrant by Kayte Nunn is that book. It came to me at a time when I needed it the most. This absolutely exquisite and superbly told tale of love, family, sacrifice, endurance, the strength of the human spirit and long held secrets is a novel that I could easily award all the stars for.
A collection of letters provides an essential link from the past to the present in the latest book from Kayte Nunn. Rachel Parker, an adventurous marine scientist, comes across a suitcase of lost love letters while she is on her latest sojourn. As soon as Rachel touches these letters she makes it her mission to track down the recipient. Tracing back to the past in the year 1951, a woman is committed against her will to a mental asylum on an isolated island, off the coast of Britain. Intended to help heal her from her madness, Esther Durant must learn to embrace her new home in the hope that she can one day be reunited with her family and young son again. When Eve, a young woman living in the year 2018 is contacted by Rachel armed with a cache of letters, her grandmother’s past comes to the surface, with surprising revelations.
It shocked me when I read in the ‘Acknowledgements’ section at the close of this dramatic new story from Kayte Nunn. In our not too distant past, in the 1950s, women could be committed to mental asylums by their spouse or father, without their permission – or the official diagnosis of a doctor’s examination. I was utterly taken aback and when Kayte Nunn bravely shared the story of her own great grandmother’s experience in a mental asylum. Nunn’s great grandmother remained at this asylum for the rest of her life, after developing postal natal depression when her son was just a small boy. The tragic nature of this personal story, which is perhaps just a drop in the ocean when it comes to similar lived experiences, moved me greatly.
Some of my most treasured books are those with split or dual timelines, involving a family mystery to unlock and revolving around a recovered artefact. Kate Morton does this genre well, along with Anna Romer, plus many more talented writers. The Forgotten Letters by Esther Durrant is a novel that easily falls into the dual timeline category, perfectly blending historical fiction with a contemporary tale. It is author Kayte Nunn’s second venture into this field and she has demonstrated just how much she has an aptitude for this style of writing.
The historical aspect of this novel was extremely well composed. The setting was incredibly well drawn and I was swept away by Nunn’s prose in this segment of her novel in particular. Nunn also adequately captures the correct period detail of the time. Nunn’s portrayal of the social attitudes and common practices of the 1950s was covered with a great deal of authenticity. The characters were rendered to perfection, I could picture them so clearly in my mind, it was like they were standing next to me as the story unravelled. Each protagonist has a compelling story to tell in the 1951 sequences. I couldn’t draw myself away from the pages of this book, especially the 1951 narrative strand, it was breathtaking and completely immersive.
The present day storyline and the placement of Rachel Parker forms in an integral layer to the unfolding story. I immediately warmed to Rachel and I loved Nunn’s construction of this character. Rachel is an important piece of the puzzle, acting as a catalyst, full of dogged determination to restore the equilibrium of times past. I admired her force and independent nature, as well as her free spirit. These traits are also mirrored in Esther Durrant to some extent. I liked how these two characters, separated by the years, seemed to echo one another.
The Forgotten Letters by Esther Durrant works incredibly well as a family mystery. It is also a stunning romance novel. The past and the present day characters enjoy their own unique romantic dalliances, which is represented with a depth of emotion by Kayte Nunn. There are a number of themes that underscore the romance and mystery aspect of this novel. Post natal depression, PTSD, self harm, mental illness, self confidence, loneliness, jealousy and infidelity are just a hint of the themes that are explored in this moving novel. I surrendered myself completely to The Forgotten Letters by Esther Durrant and I was provided with the ultimate reward, a stunning conclusion and a reading experience that I am sure I won’t forget any time soon.
The Forgotten Letters of Esther Durrant by Kayte Nunn is published by Hachette Australia. Out now. $29.99
To learn more about the author of The Forgotten Letters of Esther Durrant, Kayte Nunn, visit here.
*Thanks is extended to Hachette Australia for providing a free copy of this book for review purposes.
The Forgotten Letters of Esther Durrant is book #78 of the 2019 Australian Women Writers Challenge